Perennial: Art-Punk Ecstasy, In 20 Minutes Or Less

Surf all 22 minutes of aggressive guitars, synths, bashed cymbals, throat-rattling hollers and highbrow lyrical references on “The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves” (Howling Frequency), a punchy, searing art-punk record by Conn.-Mass trio Perennial, in one straight shot.

You’ll likely paddle right back out into the waves, or do so without realizing it: “Symmetry,” bookended by punishing, near-identical three-chord songs (“The Symmetry of Autumn Leaves” and “The Leaves of Autumn Symmetry”), is a sort of palindrome, an invitation to re-engage.

The second time, you hear the connective tissue: brief swerves into math-rock time signatures, arty spoken-word asides, ambient tape-manipulated sound effects, controlled feedback blasts. New timbres, introduced without warning, disappear just as quickly.

And “Symmetry’s” length — 22 minutes — is about how long Perennial’s live show lasts.

“There’s nothing we can accomplish in 20 minutes that we wouldn’t start undoing at 25 minutes,” says guitarist Chad Jewett. “That’s an attitude that we have, especially when we’re playing for people who’ve never seen us before. I’d far rather people say, ‘It’s over already?’ than ‘God, they’re still going?’”

Formed two years ago, Perennial — Jewett, keyboardist Chelsey Hahn and drummer Wil Mulhern — now performs frequently, in Connecticut and beyond.This week, Perennial sets off on a mini-tour of small venues and DIY spaces in the Northeast.

Before Perennial, Jewett, Hahn and Mulhern performed together, in the Northampton collective Aeroplane, 1929 (Mulhern and Jewett) and in Lion Cub (Jewett and Hahn, with Mulhern pitching in on recordings), for about a decade.

When Lion Cub dissolved in 2013, “There were a couple of years where we weren’t really playing and we wanted to get back into it,” Hahn says. “We really missed it.”

“Lion Cub was such a studio thing,” says Jewett. “We had a lot of fun recording, but we weren’t necessarily finding it as rewarding to play live. Once I started to think about playing music again, the focus became on creating a band that the live performance would be the key thing.”

From the start, Jewett wanted Perennial’s set to be completely devoid of downtime.

“A lot of the stuff I was listening to was, like, Sam Cooke’s ‘Live at the Harlem Square Club,’ or Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival, just these amazing, short, quick, energetic live sets. I was just really drawn to that.”

Hahn suggested matching shirts and choreography.

“It makes people remember us, sometimes just as ‘the striped band,’ or whatever,” Hahn says. “We've probably played less than 10 shows just wearing whatever, and now we have our group text thread: ‘Which striped shirt today?’ It makes it really easy. I was always worried about finding my coolest shirt. Now I just have to find whatever striped shirt I’m looking for.”

Perennial shows aren’t easily forgotten. Last year I watched them open for White Lung on a Sunday night in Hamden. Wearing matching striped shirts, they prowled, thrashed, bobbed, swayed and never paused. They killed. The set lasted about 20 minutes.

“Our set is like an Ikea bookshelf,” Jewett says. “It has this nice, airtight frame, where it begins a certain way and ends a certain way, and there are all these different spots where you can stick a shelf, or if you want to raise a shelf or lower a shelf, or pull a shelf out. Ultimately, the core of what we do onstage stays the same, but we can swap songs in or out.”

New songs start life as guitar or organ riffs. “Even if one of us has a pretty good idea of where something should go, as a group we’ll rethink it,” Jewett says.

“We all give each other feedback,” adds Hahn. “Chad and Wil can play guitar, and I can’t, but I definitely say, ‘Oh, can you try it with a lower note or something different?’ Often it’s not what they were thinking of, but it works out to be something kind of interesting that we use.”

“Symmetry” is concise, but there’s a lot to unpack. “Dissolver,” and the even shorter “Resolver,” are flare-ups of aggravated, deconstructed soul-psychedelia. “The Witching Witching Witching Hour Blues,” and its roughly palindromic sister-song “Transistor Chapel Roof,” explore quieter textures: hushed vocals, ‘60s organ sounds and synth bass, isolated cymbals.

Threads unravel through repetition. Punk-leaning tracks — “Fauves,” “Hippolyta,” either of the “Symmetry”s — are shouted more than sung; others, like “Welton ‘59,” unfold into strings of delicate, interwoven melodic fragments.

After Perennial’s current tour, another jaunt is planned for February. A third will pop up in July, most likely.

“We want to keep doing that,” says Hahn. “I don’t know that it would be possible to do something that was two months long or a year-long tour. That’s now how bands like us can really function anyway.”

For now, Jewett says, the idea is “to keep building, and things will eventually fall into place.”

“We try to take care of the stuff that we can: playing as good of a live show as possible, being ambitious about playing as many shows as we can, going from weekenders to something more like a week to two weeks to three weeks. If and when playing extended national tours becomes a possibility, we'll know that, and we'll go for it. We’ll let the situation dictate that. In the meantime, we’re just trying to work as we can possibly push ourselves.”

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